IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL COMMITMENT OF A.L.Annotate this Case
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE
APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-0
IN THE MATTER OF THE CIVIL
COMMITMENT OF A.L., SVP-348-03.
December 16, 2014
Argued October 20, 2014 Decided
Before Judges Sabatino and Guadagno.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. SVP-348-03.
Michael T. Denny, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant A.L. (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney).
Stephen J. Slocum, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent State of New Jersey (John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney).
A.L. appeals from an order entered April 29, 2014 finding him to be a sexually violent predator in need of involuntary civil commitment at the State of New Jersey Special Treatment Unit (STU) pursuant to the Sexually Violent Predator Act (SVPA), N.J.S.A. 30:4-27.24 to -27.38. We affirm.
A.L. has a lengthy history of sexual offenses beginning as a juvenile. In 1978, at age sixteen, A.L. was charged with assault with intent to rape. He received a suspended sentence for assault and battery.
In June 1981, A.L. attempted to force his eleven-year-old sister onto a mattress in a secluded area under a railroad bridge to sexually assault her. He pled guilty to third-degree child endangerment and was sentenced to 164 days and one year of probation.
In 1983, A.L. met a twenty-five-year-old woman at a tavern. He asked her to take a walk with him, and they proceeded to A.L.'s house. Once inside the home, the woman claimed that A.L. raped her. Medical reports indicated the victim was penetrated vaginally and anally. A.L. pled guilty to second-degree aggravated sexual assault and received a five-year custodial term with two years of parole ineligibility.
In July 1988, A.L. attempted to penetrate his girlfriend's ten-year-old daughter vaginally and anally while she slept on a mattress in the living room. He pled guilty to first-degree aggravated sexual assault and was sentenced to a twelve-year custodial term with five years of parole ineligibility.
In May 1996, A.L. approached a nineteen-year-old female who was using a telephone booth. He told her that he was a police officer and began feeling her body, including her breasts, and attempted to pull down her panties from underneath her dress. When she screamed, he threw her to the ground, claimed he had a gun, and threatened her. A neighbor came to help the woman. Police found A.L. hiding in the bushes two blocks away from the scene. When police apprehended A.L., he became violent and had to be physically restrained. A.L. pled guilty to second-degree attempted sexual assault and third-degree terroristic threats. A.L. was sentenced to ten years at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC) with five years of parole ineligibility.
A.L.'s civil commitment proceeding began in November 2003, shortly before A.L. was to be released from the ADTC. A commitment hearing was held in May 2004. On the same date of the hearing, the court ordered A.L.'s commitment to the STU.
A.L. appealed the trial court's judgment and we affirmed. In re Civil Commitment of A.Z.L., No. A-5655-03 (App. Div. Nov. 15, 2007). Subsequent review hearings were held on October 23, 2008, September 22, 2009, and May 10, 2013.
The instant civil commitment hearing was held before Judge James F. Mulvihill on April 28, 2014. The State presented two experts, Dr. Dean DeCrisce and Dr. Hemisha Urgola.
Dr. DeCrisce, a psychiatrist, interviewed A.L. on several occasions and compiled a report with his findings, which was admitted into evidence without objection. In his report, Dr. DeCrisce diagnosed A.L. as suffering from coercive paraphilia, pedophilic disorder, antisocial personality disorder, borderline intellectual functioning, and a number of substance abuse disorders.
During his testimony, Dr. DeCrisce stated that there may be significance to A.L.'s victims being women and children
It indicates the possibility, or at least in [A.L.'s] case it's my opinion that there is [sic] different paraphilias, more than one paraphilia. We term that crossover. That's what it's called, crossover. And crossover is an indication or a . . . factor that indicates a higher risk for sexual re-offense.
In addition, Dr. DeCrisce noted that A.L.'s multiple re-offenses after imprisonment indicates that A.L. has "a very strong drive to re-offend" and is "very difficult to monitor in the community."
Dr. DeCrisce ultimately concluded that A.L. suffers from a mental abnormality that predisposes him to sexually reoffend. A.L.'s antisocial personality disorder and substance abuse further add to the risk of re-offense because A.L. would be more prone to acting on impulse without regard for the welfare of others. Although A.L. has been increasing his participation in treatment over the years, Dr. DeCrisce does not believe A.L. is capable of controlling his impulses out in the community.
The State's second expert was Dr. Urgola, a psychologist. Dr. Urgola was a member of the Treatment Progress Review Committee (TPRC), which did its annual evaluation of A.L.
Dr. Urgola testified that A.L. has been engaged in treatment, but noted that A.L. has difficulty in acknowledging a deviant arousal
[A.L. is] denying that he's presently aroused to under age [sic] girls, specifically girls age 10 or younger, but did say something to the extent that if he was around them, he could be aroused to them, but again tried to qualify it with that he was not presently aroused to them.
The . . . panel tried to confront him on this a little bit. And he did get argumentative to a certain extent. And when we questioned him as to what he thought the feedback meant, he said, if I'm aroused to kids I'm going to go out there and look for kids, thinking that that's what the TPRC was trying to say to him.
So, he does seem to have some maybe misconceptions about what it would mean to acknowledge a deviant arousal. So, that was kind of . . . picked up on in terms of the treatment recommendations, to continue addressing that in treatment.
Dr. Urgola recommended that A.L. continue to participate in a process group, enroll in education classes, and attend self-help groups. In addition, Dr. Urgola recommended that he continue to talk about his offenses so that A.L. may better understand his arousal patterns.
Ultimately, Dr. Urgola concluded that A.L. suffers from a mental abnormality that predisposes him to sexually reoffend. Dr. Urgola continued to say that A.L. "remains at high risk to sexually recidivate if he was not confined to the STU."
Judge Mulvihill found Dr. DeCrisce's testimony to be "extremely credible, very forthright and knowledgeable." Likewise, Judge Mulvihill found Dr. Urgola's testimony to be "very thorough and very, very credible."
Judge Mulvihill found that A.L. is at a high risk to sexually reoffend if not confined in the STU. The judge was convinced that the State proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that A.L. "has serious difficulty controlling his sexual harmful behavior, [is] highly likely [he] will not control his sexual violent behavior and [is] highly likely to reoffend."
On appeal, A.L. argues1 that Judge Mulvihill erred in continuing his civil commitment and finding that he was highly likely to commit acts of sexual violence in the future.
Review of a trial court's judgment in a civil commitment proceeding under the SVPA is "extremely narrow." In re Commitment of J.P., 339 N.J. Super. 443, 459 (App. Div. 2001) (citing State v. Fields, 77 N.J. 282, 311 (1978)). We afford the utmost deference to the trial court's determination and make modifications only if there is a clear abuse of discretion. Ibid. "The appropriate inquiry is to canvass the . . . expert testimony in the record and determine whether the [trial court's] findings were clearly erroneous." In re D.C., 146 N.J. 31, 58-59 (1996). Thus, the trial court's findings should not be disturbed if they are supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. In re Civil Commitment of R.F., 217 N.J. 152, 175 (2014).
The State must satisfy three requirements to classify a person as a sexually violent predator in need of involuntary commitment: (1) "that the individual has been convicted of a sexually violent offense"; (2) "that he suffers from a mental abnormality or personality disorder"; and (3) "that as a result of his psychiatric abnormality or disorder, 'it is highly likely that the individual will not control his or her sexually violent behavior and will reoffend.'" Id. at 173 (quoting In re Commitment of W.Z., 173 N.J. 109, 130 (2002)).
We are satisfied from our review of the record that Judge Mulvihill's findings were supported by substantial credible evidence. From the unrefuted testimony of both experts, it is clear that appellant continues to have mental abnormalities that pose a serious risk that he will sexually reoffend if released. There was no expert support for A.L.'s argument on appeal that his risk of re-offense is minimized by his present age of fifty-two. Given the limited scope of review, we affirm the trial court's order of continued civil commitment substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Mulvihill in his oral opinion of April 29, 2014. We find no error in the trial court's conclusions, which were fully supported by the record and consistent with the applicable law.
1 By agreement of the parties and with the permission of the court, the appeal was argued without briefs. We summarize the points raised by appellant based upon the presentation at oral argument.